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Whistler Film Festival: The Darkest Movie Moments on the Starriest Slopes

THE DARKEST HOUR opens WFF 2017
by Jason Whyte

In its seventeenth year in the mighty year of Twenty Seventeen, the Whistler Film Festival moves forward with what is sure to be another unforgettable year held in one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Whether you are a local or, like me, eagerly travelling to this festival in search of the next great movie, WFF has always been a celebration of both cinema and talent in this little village of ski, Australian/New Zealand expats and finding out where the next party is at. And a run at Zog's Dogs for those grilled onions and a Beaver Tail.

This year's motto and hashtag is #ittakesavillage, which makes absolute sense as this is one of the very few film festivals where everything is right next to each other. You either drive up, or take a shuttle and as soon as you check into your place you only have to walk around for the next five days. If I get a text from someone saying there is an event, party or surprise guest at a screening, I can drop what I'm doing and be there just in enough time for the other person to go "Wait, how did you get here so fast? I JUST TEXTED YOU!" Welcome to Whistler Film Festival, my friend.

Starting off the 17th edition of WFF is none other than the Oscar hopeful THE DARKEST HOUR starring Gary Oldman and directed by Joe Wright, which is already generating Oscar buzz for Oldman's performance as Winston Churchill in the early days of the war when he was thrust into the role of Prime Minister. I know programmer Paul Gratton saw this movie in one of the many vast screening rooms of the Scotiabank Toronto venue at this year's Toronto International Film Festival. In fact, some of the selections this year I SAW sitting right next to Paul and hearing his infectious laughter and reaction after some of the screenings was a highlight of my year. So I knew that Paul and his programming team, whom I saw all run around the Press & Industry venues, were cooking up something good for December along with this Opening Night Gala.

No matter what type of film fan you are, there is something for you here. Oscar hopefuls, the best docs, Canadian Indies, short films, American Indies and foreign films will grace screens at the Imagine Cinemas Whistler Village 8, Maury Young Arts Centre and the Rainbow Theatre at the bottom of the Whistler Conference Centre. Adding to the fun is talks with the likes of Bill Pullman, Kyra Sedgewick, Amanda Crew, Kevin Zegers, Rossif Sutherland, Shiva Negar and countless Canadian and international filmmakers and industry in attendance, likely circulating around the village inbetween venues like yours truly. Just make sure you finish things off by seeing the great local documentary THE MOMENT which will bring the filmmaking team and a lot of locals together (more on the movie below).

My job is not complete without talking about the vast array of feature films here this year. With my work at TIFF and with the great help of the publicity team, I have been able to screen and talk about 42 of the titles at WFF this year. Believe me when I say that this is one of the very best years of the Whistler Film Festival and I encourage you to drop what you are doing and join me up in the Village for a few days. Read on!

WHISTLER FILM FESTIVAL 2017 PREVIEW GUIDE:

ALL YOU CAN EAT BUDDHA - We start with of the most puzzling narratives of Whistler this year, one that I feel that Paul Gratton and I will be talking about inbetween screenings. In his first feature, filmmaker Ian Lagarde has a movie that pretty much defies a plot description, except to say that it is set at a hotel called El Palacio in the Caribbean, the staff have been there forever, and there is a truly weird guy that I suppose you could refer to as a protagonist. The storytelling is more visual and cerebral than what I can write here as a lot of things happen in silence and in long takes, but if you are into the bizarre and big screen visuals that is like a weird marriage of Fellini and Kubrick, you will eat this one up (yeah I went there). Not bad for a first feature! Oh, and there's an Octopus. You'll see.

ANOTHER WOLFCOP - A superior follow-up to the flawed but entertaining 2014 original that came and went pretty quickly in theaters, director Lowell Dean has a lot of fun with his title character, Lou Garou (Leo Fafard) who becomes our title character by night as in this movie takes on a new brewery and hockey team that simply don't belong in the fictional town of Woodhaven. There are lots of familiar WFF faces in the movie as well; both Laura Abramsen and James Whittingham from THE SABBATICAL (WFF 2015) have small but memorable roles here, and don't miss an extended cameo from none other by Kevin Smith who has a lot of fun here as well. ANOTHER WOLFCOP is a bloody, graphic good time that goes down perfect with some liquor donuts.

A TO B ROLLERSKI (TOP PICK) - A total charmer of a documentary featuring new and vintage footage as a Lativian man, Raimonds Dombrovski, embarks on a 4200 mile journey from Alaska to Mexico in both the 1980s as well as again in present day. Raimonds is a fascinating individual and there is also just great use of old video footage as well as newer 4k imagery of his modern journey which really ties well together. What's even better is the REAL star of the show, a dog named Buci, travels along with Raimonds in the 1980s segments and made me laugh every single second the two were together on screen. A TO B ROLLERSKI perfectly complements the festivals' mountain culture documentaries and is not to be missed.

THE BALLAD OF LEFTY BROWN (TOP PICK) - An all out Western, stunningly shot on anamorphic 35mm in Montana and featuring one of Bill Pullman's best performances as an aging cowboy whose former "business" partner (Peter Fonda, also great) gets appointed to Senator of Montana, and creates a lot of friction when the new Senator has Lefty take care of his old ranch. Set around the late 19th century, this movie lives and breathes the era thanks to director Jarod Moshe and cinematographer David McFarland who really push for the big-screen experience rather than lensing this for current digital mediums. A complicated story with lots of untrustworthy characters, all circulating around Pullman who finally has a great lead role to sink his teeth into. If you need to see one big screen movie at WFF this year, this is it.

BECOMING BURLESQUE - A winning Toronto-based comedy that takes a bit of time to get going but once it does it becomes an inspiring, girl-power tale of finding yourself and standing on your own feet. Fatima (the stunning Shiva Negar) is a Muslim woman who is feeling down on her luck and winds up walking into a burlesque nightclub, quickly realizing that opposed to the club being about sex and gratification is much more about empowerment. Quickly we meet the dancers and club-owners who all welcome Fatima and encourage her to work there, but of course with her religion and nearby family she must do so in hiding. What results is a unique family story that grounds itself in reality -- the movie does make comments about religion and the potential double standards -- while at the same time navigating great storytelling tropes and has messages for all adults about finding yourself and not taking any crap from anyone. Shiva Negar is a revelation and is a major standout performance at the festival this year.

BECOMING ICONIC - This is one of the most frustrating movies I have ever seen about the process of making a film; and I mean that as a huge complement to Neal Thibedeau's unflinching doc about the unreleased film INCONCEIVABLE which was directed by New York based Jonathan Baker starring Nicolas Cage and Faye Dunaway on a small budget. Throughout we get to experience the incredible hardships of the production and filming of a movie and almost everyone above Baker fighting against him and his visions as well as see a truly passionate individual, still fighting hard in his 50s to make the movie he wants despite adversity. Featuring terrific interviews from the likes of Jodie Foster, Adrian Lyne and even Nicolas Cage himself on set, BECOMING ICONIC is a fascinating challenge and mandatory viewing for any aspiring filmmakers getting closer to making a big movie and Baker's advice about "hand picking your own team" could not be any more accurate in this day and age.

BERNARD & HUEY - Dan Mirvish, the co-creator of Slamdance as well as a filmmaker who was here a few years ago with his star-filled feature BETWEEN US (WFF 2012) returns with a Jules Feiffer (CARNAL KNOWLEDGE) screenplay starring David Koechner as Huey and Jim Rash as Bernard, old friends who reunite after 25 years. In the past, Huey was a ladies man and Bernard never really seemed to have any luck with the ladies but today the exact opposite as true, as we see Bernard well established in New York and Huey come back into the picture broke and alone. There are some new romantic complications that arise from their reunion, especially when Huey's daughter (the criminally underrated Mae Whitman from THE DUFF) starts dating Bernard. This is a comedy of manners that is far from perfect but Mirvish's direction and lead performances more than make up for it, and along with Feiffer's screenplay these characters were also from a Village Voice comic that plays itself well in the closing credits.

BUDAPEST NOIR (TOP PICK) - Quite possibly the "coolest" movie to play at the Whistler Film Festival this year is a flat out film noir set during the pre-war days of WWII featuring an amazing lead performance by actor Krisztian Kolovratnik as reporter Zsigmond Gordon investigating a murdered prostitute on the dark streets of Budapest. Director Eva Gardos, who made the quite excellent AN AMERICAN RHAPSODY all the way back in 2001 has a great flair for visual style and is also great dealing the abundant twists and turns in the storytelling here, as Zsigmond delicately balances his snooping along with pre-war politics all the while keeping his cool. And boy does Kolovratnik, in a truly great lead performance, ooze cool in every frame like a young Cary Grant. One of the best big-screen experiences you will find at Whistler this year.

THE CANNON - Hilarious right from the silly opening credits that perfectly capture the awkwardness of adult film shoots, even if the first scene suggests a more traditional story-based porn film versus the gonzo days of porn now. Marshall Axani's hilarious debut feature film shot around Vancouver is about porn star actor Colton (Bob Frazer), aka The Cannon, who may have Lou Gehrig's disease as he nears retirement. He also wants to act in narrative films, and when he goes to an audition his daughter tags along and she winds up reading for a role. This relationship gets put to the test with a story that starts out very comedic but quickly turns dramatic, and overall the movie is a lot of fun throughout. There is also a terrific extended sequence involving a huge sum of money for a particular film project that I found very unique and original. Frazer is great as Colton but the true star of the movie is young Megan Charpentier as the conflicted daughter who is incredibly wise beyond her years.

CARDINALS - A haunting tale on truth, redemption and coverups, circulating around a mother (Sheila McCarthy in one of the best performances you will see at Whistler this yaer) who kills a neighbor "by accident" and the resulting family struggle when the neighbor's son doesn't believe it was an accident. The movie starts when she is released from prison after serving time and as the movie progresses we learn more about what is happening here. Was this an accident and who was involved? CARDINALS plays out like a great play as filmmakers Aidan Shipley and Grayson Moore use a terrific cast in addition to McCarthy (you also have Noah Reid and Katie Boland in terrific performances here) with most of the action taking place in a small house leading to a powerful resolution. It's a small film with a very slow burn, but CARDINALS is incredibly effective and has a lot to say about hiding the truth no matter who it affects.

THE DEFINITIES - Reminding me quite a bit of the themes in Josh Barnard's film MENORCA which played at the festival last year, THE DEFINITES features a solid performance from Hannah Cheesman as a woman who flees her relationship out of Toronto and goes to Miami to find her sister and gets tied up in drugs, booze and partying in the city. I really liked the look & feel of the city in THE DEFINITES as it moved down south, along with the messages it has about running away from relationships instead of facing them; also the protagonist has a solid story along with her sister who also ran away from a past horror. There are some tough scenes at times, especially towards the finale, but overall this is a solid drama that had me engaged throughout.

THE DISASTER ARTIST (TOP PICK): Having seen this movie before -- First at the SxSW work in progress premiere and then the actual world premiere at TIFF's Midnight Madness -- you will likely find me at another screening of James Franco's gem on the making of THE ROOM up in Whistler. No, THE ROOM is NOT the Brie Larson/Jacob Tremblay movie from 2015 that won all those Oscars. Nay, this is Tommy Wiseau's 2003 legendary cult film that has taken on a life of its own and Franco's story is based off of Greg Sestero's book on the infamous making and release of the film all those years ago. Franco plays Wiseau in a performance that WILL get him the Academy Award, and his brother Dave Franco plays Mark, I mean Greg whose friendship is put to the test with Johnny, I mean Tommy. A near perfect comedy about the passion of making movies that is right up there with AMERICAN MOVIE. This will be a huge success when released later in December this year.

(Note that THE ROOM is also screening in a restored version of sorts at the festival as well, if you are up for one of the most unforgettable cinematic experiences of your life.)

8 MINUTES AHEAD - This is a surprisingly effective debut feature from filmmaker Ben Hoskyn who lensed this total DIY feature in multiple countries over the course of four years. In the story he tells of a young man named Cheng who realizes, as the film opens with him in Hong Kong, his business-owning father is dying back in Canada and comes back to reconnect with him even though they have a troubled past. It's a complicated story that also has themes about immigration as well as cultural imbalance that all works really well. The title itself refers to a self-motivation tape that opens the movie and really sets up the themes in the movie. I also loved how it freely moved from locations and yet I naturally followed the transitions between Hong Kong and Canada with the indie spirit (there are some gorgeously flowing shots in Hong Kong that I could tell Hoskyn didn't get permits for, and all for the better). It's not a perfect movie of course with a few DIY moments and performances, but overall I was moved by the storyline and the indie go-for-it approach.

HEAVEN'S FLOOR - A strong and effective family drama with a rather unique premise; an LA photographer (Clea DuVall) has a run-in with a young Inuit girl while in Canada and winds up adopting her and bringing her back down to California, and the majority of the latter half of the film is a telling look at trying to assimilate someone into a new society far out of their comfort zone. Director Lori Stoll has some stunning artistry on display here; a slightly slow start, but the latter half of the movie with the daughter trying to fit into California culture is strong and effective, and lead Clea DuVall gives a great and complicated performance trying to deal with this new person in her life. It is also stunningly shot in the Canadian sequences as well and looks great on the big screen.

HOCHELAGA, LAND OF SOULS - Francois Girard, most famously known for THE RED VIOLIN many years ago, returns to Quebec with a story of what happens when a massive sinkhole happens during a football game at a college football stadium in Montreal and kills a player. An archeological team arrives on the scene to investigate and then as artifacts are discovered underground several timelines of Montreal's past come to light to tell the stories of past generations on Montreal land, from the first settlers leading all the way to the official naming of the town. It's a bizarre premise and I feel that the modern sequences, where we investigate with an archeological team on Montreal's past, fare much better than some of the historic sequences. Still, Girard's flair for storytelling, much as he did showing how a violin found itself in many hands and generations in THE RED VIOLIN, is beautifully on display here and it presents both a dramatic and historic importance for Canada and Montreal.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRE (TOP PICK) - A terrific addition to fashion documentaries like THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE and FRANCA: CHAOS & CREATION, Kate Novack's stunning documentary profiles Vogue Magazine editor Andre Leon Talley, the large and in charge presence over many years leading up to his current position. A great mix of vintage footage of his Virginia upbringing and past industry work leading up to the oversized presence he is now, we see right into the mind of Andre as a flawed and conflicted yet deeply passionate individual. There are great moments of comedy here, including a dialogue between hot dogs and caviar that nearly had me on the floor laughing with how bizarre the conversation was. It is such a highly enjoyable documentary that is a lot of fun while also having a great dramatic edge. As well, what is tricky here is how unfamiliar I am with the world of fashion yet I really connect to passionate people and Andre is absolutely no exception. His greatest moment in the documentary may be the simple one that is featured post-credits, so please don't leave when the credits start rolling.

I TONYA (TOP PICK) - The very best movie I saw at TIFF this year with Paul Gratton sitting next to me as in a laughing fit throughout, Craig Gillepsie's (LARS AND THE REAL GIRL) best film to date is a no-holds-barred look at the Tonya Harding sensation of the mid 1990s. As someone who was a teenager at this time and lived through all of the insane media coverage of this event, as I watched this movie memories flooded back of this trash-talking girl from Portland not taking crap from anyone, news on her abusive boyfriend and what really happened with her and Nancy Kerrigan. All of this movie is told in a tongue in cheek perspective where the characters talk directly to the camera, bold titles appear on screen to accentuate the action with a loud soundtrack is loud and proud, all circulating around two legendary performances; Margo Robbie's Tonya finds the perfect level of toughness and heart, while Allison Janney literally steals a scene away from the movie at one point as her mom with a parrot on her shoulder.

JUGGERNAUT - Reminding me a bit of the slow-burning genius of HELLO DESTROYER from earlier this year, this Kamloops shot drama features a great lead performance by Jack Kesy as our lead Saxon, who returns to his small town roots after his mom dies. He is determined to find out exactly what happened as he doesn't have all the information, especially with his family possibly covering it up. JUGGERNAUT, while it is a long movie in comparison to others in the festival this year (I could even call it an epic at its nearly two hour run time) sets its grittiness in VERY early with a slow building anger that never lets go leading to some pretty violent conflicts. And with its interior BC setting there are even some cool Western vibes in here as well. Huge kudos to Jack Kesy for the complicated lead performance of Saxon, and actress Amanda Crew in a memorable performance playing a conflicted woman in this small town as well.

LAST FLAG FLYING (TOP PICK) - One of my favorite filmmakers, Richard Linklater, has spun a new road movie Classic in a simple but elegant story of a father (Steve Carell) whose son does in the Iraq war in 2003, and the two best friends the father had in Vietnam (Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne) accompany him to retrieve his son from the military to have a burial back home. As the film begins I initially thought that this was a bizarre choice for Linklater to have as his next project and slowly but surely his trademark character storytelling starts to shine through and becomes an unforgettable road trip movie as three best friends connect once again along with connecting with people around them (there is a stunning performance here by J. Quinton Johnson playing a young marine). At times the movie is hilarious and other times wrenching, and Linklater deftly balances everything while making simple but powerful points about the effects of war across generations.

THE LEARS (TOP PICK) - Vancouver-based Carl Bessai was the first filmmaker I ever met on the festival circuit when his movie LOLA screened at the Victoria Film Festival in 2002. I have since seen him more than any other filmmaker at festivals and seen him greatly evolve as a filmmaker too. In THE LEARS, which is among his early American movies, is all filmed in LA but actually birthed at the Whistler Film Festival two years ago after a producer meeting. The movie stars Bruce Dern, who is still making me laugh from his performance in NEBRASKA a few years ago, as architect Davenport Lear who has all of his children come back to his LA home for some kind of major announcement. Most of the movie has Davenport lurking somewhere in the outskirts while everyone else meets in this house and we see a lot of emotional conflict. There are some of the best performances you will see at Whistler this year; along with Dern there are also the likes of Anthony Michael Hall, Sean Astin, Aly Michalka and Victoria Smurfit, among others, whose character personalities all clash against one another. A tough family drama to watch at times but nevertheless very powerful and it also showcases Bessai's strength for character storytelling and performance.

MOBILE HOMES (TOP PICK) - This powerful and effective drama with really dark undertones starts with Ali (Imogen Poots) hustling her way through life with a young sun and stoner boyfriend who move from hotel rooms and hide from every situation. Ali gets a small job and decides to part ways with the boyfriend and better herself, in the type of low-income horror story we all try to avoid. Director Vladimir de Fontenay truly captures a Dardenne Brothers like style with a near documentary like approach as it carefully follows Ali living her life with reckless abandon. There are some truly unique images in this movie as well including the family living in a mobile home that is literally moving on a highway, to an escape sequence that I have never quite seen in a movie like this before. It all is balanced by a perfect performance by young Imogen Poots as the deeply conflicted Ali who does strive for a better life even when creating some damage along the way.

THE MOMENT (TOP PICK) - The closing night selection of Whistler this year is an incredible piece of documentary filmmaking that, as the festival does every year, features a mountain culture movie as its closing night selection. In this case it's Vancouver based Darcy Hennessey Turenne's passionate doc about the sport of mountain biking in the last 25 years featuring a lot of loving interviews, history and especially FOOTAGE of mountain biking in various technical forms and the personal stories behind it, all over British Columbia. And oh boy is there FOOTAGE FOOTAGE FOOTAGE; while we get to see clips from some fun 1990s indie documentaries and various forms of old film and video, my favorite sequences in the film were the intense and dangerous FreeRiding biking trails that are developed in the middle of the forest that are incredibly scary for a non-biker like me to look at, but fascinating footage nevertheless. Throughout I just loved the passion and dedication, all leading to a stunning final sequence set in Whistler itself about how the sport has evolved and how it operates today as a great passion sport. Great stuff!

NEVER HERE (TOP PICK) - Already a film festival favorite, NEVER HERE features one of the best female performances at Whistler this year. Mireille Enos (WORLD WAR Z, THE KILLING) is simply amazing here in a truly complicated performance as Miranda, an artist who is having an affair with older Paul (Sam Shepard in his final performance), who is married with a wife who is ill. Their relationship is put to the test when an assault happens near her apartment window and winds up covering it up for an unexplained reason. I want to say more, but what results is a pure and unpredictable thriller that is a quiet, masterful slow-burn expertly made by director Camille Thoman and a showcase for Enos' incredible screen presence as a deeply conflicted woman in a story that has all the great twists and turns of classic cinema, complete with an unforgettable final act. Again, I am trying to stay quiet but I want you to see the movie and come up and talk about it with me.

NEVER SAW IT COMING - Like with NEVER HERE, NEVER SAW IT COMING is a solid thriller story that would make for a great double bill, although this one has a slightly more Hitchcock vibe. Gail Harvey immediately makes me uncomfortable with her opening images, where we see a car falling into an icy lake over the opening credits. Following that, we see the stunning Emily Hampshire (who has been to WFF several times before) as con artist Keisha who is peddling her psychic readings to missing persons cases for some money. She finds a potential client in Wendell (Eric Roberts...YES, Eric Roberts) who initially takes on her services and winds up dying in the process, in true Eric Roberts fashion (Die hard fans of Roberts know what I mean; there is even a Eric Roberts PODCAST online made by a friend of mine. Seriously, look it up). What follows is a cover-up AND police procedural that has left me nearly exhausted in its execution, but it absolutely works thanks to great performances from the entire cast and such a fun attention to detail that is also slighty odd and unique as well. Kudos to Gail Harvey and her cast for such a fun experience.

NOBODY FAMOUS - A hilarious and twisted satire on young actors and social media, Sarah Rotella's feature is about a group of young actors all gathering at a lake house (filmed in Northern Ontario) for a weekend get-together. While it feels like a party/getaway movie at first with these different protagonists rather clashing against each other in honest ways, a major turn happens after one of the group gets a major role that takes NOBODY FAMOUS into wacky dark comedy territory. Even with that interesting tonal change, Rotella's film really works overall; I had a lot of fun with the conflicting backgrounds and viewpoints of the young characters which feels very fresh and honest with people of that age group these days and really shows the struggle with young actors finding work in todays' acting generation. If you are young and aspiring, and you're on Instagram, this movie will touch a lot of nerves.

ORDINARY DAYS (TOP PICK) - This is a fascinating subject for a feature; three perspectives of a missing college girl told in three chapters, each directed by a filmmaker I deeply admire; Jordan Canning (WE WERE WOLVES, SUCK IT UP), Kris Booth (AT HOME BY MYSELF WITH YOU), and Renuka Jeyapalan (BIG GIRL, one of my favorite shorts from the Vancouver International Film Festival over a decade ago) all have a different perspective on the story; one is told from the perspective of the parents, the next from the police and in the final sequence we see what really happens to the girl in near documentary like fashion. What results overall is a unique look at a simple story but in an unforgettable way that has still resonated with me weeks after watching it and writing about it now. This film also would make for important film school programming and discussion on perspective in cinema.

PAINLESS (TOP PICK) - A few years ago I met the kind and unique filmmaker Joey Klein who was at South By Southwest with his film THE OTHER HALF starring Tatiana Maslany. We met again at the Vancouver International Film Festival later that year and it was great to note that not only he was a deeply talented filmmaker and performer but one of the nicest people I have met in the industry. What I was surprised to discover is that Klein stars in Jordan Horowitz' new film PAINLESS in a fascinating performance as a man named Henry who is unable to feel any kind of pain in his life and tries to find a cure for it, all the while starting up a new possible relationship in the process. Henry's character is very introverted and not wanting to make too many connections, so it's a huge test of his character to see if he can reach outward while also trying to cure himself, ironically, of NOT feeling pain. It's a fascinating premise by Horowitz that makes you ask the question of what you would do if you were unable to feel any pain, and Klein absolutely nails the answer.

PORCUPINE LAKE - A movie that was birthed at Whistler back in 2013 when myself and hundreds all witnessed Oscar winning actress Melissa Leo standing up and shouting "I WILL DO IT" when director Ingrid Veninger asked for financiers for her upcoming female-produced film projects. And here is the result three years later. Veninger, no stranger to Whistler but also Toronto stories, has some of her best work here in the simple story set in the Severn Lake area about the friendship between two adolescent girls, one up on vacation from Toronto and the other who lives there, and the bond that is created over the summer. There are some complicated characters around them including an alcoholic mom and siblings there are also gentle scenes of our two leads existing with one another; Veninger's style has always given space to her characters to let them breathe and show their moments in character rather than exclusively plot, and this friendship that takes place is unforgettable. The movie also screens with the documentary THE OTHER SIDE OF PORCUPINE LAKE, which is also a fascinating look at the behind the scenes process of not only the filmmaking process but low-budget indie filmmaking as well. (See below for review.)

THE PRODIGAL DAD - Lead actor Brad Dryborough is an talent I have always admired, from short films at the Vancouver International Film Festival to a truly bizarre performance in Dylan Smith's comedy DOPPELGANGER PAUL which showed at Whistler Film Festival a few years ago. Here, in THE PRODIGAL DAD, he gets a front-and-center lead performance that is one of the very best this year as a dentist who has a shattering experience after his wife dies and becomes intertwined in his daughter's life, so much so that he becomes friends with her friends as well. This is a comedy that asks deep questions about finding yourself even at an older age and also bridges an interesting gap between generations that is definitely closing as societies and generations now interact more than ever before. Director Robert Wenzek has a lot of fun with Brad Dryborough and his comic timing, and he is surrounded by a terrific young cast as well in this movie lovingly shot with a BC backdrop.

PRODIGALS (TOP PICK) - I was an immediate fan of Michelle Ouellet back in 2013 when AFTERPARTY screened here at the festival; that film was a powerful story on long term friendships with Ali Liebert in a very complex performance. In her followup she has fashioned a deep, challenging and unforgettable adaptation of a Sean Minogue play. The story features a young man (David Alpay, who I first remember seeing in Atom Egoyan's film ARARAT) who returns to Sault Ste Marie after five years to testify for a trial involving an old friend and promises that he won't try to make good with his ex-girlfriend (the always amazing Sara Canning) that he left as well. Parts of the movie are nearly unbearable to watch as we see a potential toxic relationship come to a head and we learn why this man left the town in the first place. PRODIGALS is tough but demanding viewing that is ultimately rewarding with Ouellet's fine eye for detail and performance.

THE OTHER SIDE OF PORCUPINE LAKE - A feature length documentary about a movie that is playing in the film festival this year, PORCUPINE LAKE, seems like a very odd idea, but the film festival has scheduled back-to-back screenings of Ingrid Veninger's coming of age story that got its start at Whistler (see above for review), followed by Julian Papas' insider document of the pre-production, filming and post-production of the film. What makes this required viewing for film fans and students is that we finally get to see Ingrid's process which is very hard-working but collaborative. As well we also witness the actresses themselves connecting along with Ingrid's daughter Hallie, also an actress, here in doing wardrobe selections and lovingly help her mom out in any way possible. I loved that at many points in the documentary we are simply observing the art being born and the absolute passion that went behind it; so much so that you don't even have to watch PORCUPINE LAKE to enjoy it (although I would recommend it). If you are a fan of Ingrid's work, as I am, this is a fascinating look into a truly inspiring individual.

THE ROOM - "Hi, doggy." With those words spoken, cinema was reborn with Tommy Wiseau's dark comic masterpiece that spoke on many levels of betraying one's trust, tearing one apart and not caring anymore over a glass of Scotchka. Of course, if you REALLY know about THE ROOM, Wiseau's 2003 cult classic that enters the stratosphere of bad movies, you will want to check out a "restored" version of the movie that Paul Gratton is showing as a double bill with THE DISASTER ARTIST as part of the "From The Vault" annual series. You'll get to see every beautifully restored frame of this 35mm and high-def shot classic the way the director intended! As someone who has seen many late night screenings of this messed up movie, it is a real treat to see this movie with an audience verbally reacting to the screen throughout its running time. And bring some plastic spoons with you.

SANTA STOLE OUR DOG: A MERRY DOGGONE CHRISTMAS (TOP PICK) - This crazy, go-for-broke kid Christmas movie gets a Top Pick from me as this movie will work on different levels depending on your age and your love of Santa. On the one hand kids six and under will have a lot of fun with the silly storyline as a beloved dog of a family accidentally jumps into Santa's gift bag and makes it back to the North Pole, and that family decides to travel to the North Pole to rescue the pooch. What kid wouldn't love that premise? On the other hand the adults taking their kids to this movie will discover a potential cult-classic Xmas answer to THE ROOM where this premise takes bizarre life with iMovie and Final Cut Pro effects, computer visual effects that look almost drawn onto the screen and hilarious performances from the adults and kids with some truly wacky dialogue. If it sounds like I am harping on the movie it is anything but; I can really see the filmmakers trying for something here with obvious limitations, and they get away with a lot and I laughed throughout. As well, there is a line delivery by Ed Asner (as Santa Claus!) late in the movie where I had to pause, rewind the screener back a few seconds and listen to it again just to ensure that it actually happened. The line is now my phone's ringtone. This movie was a total blast for this reviewer and I had a great time with every silly moment, and yet I still know that kids would absolutely love it.

SOMEONE ELSE'S WEDDING - A Canadian comedy with a big International cast that spans many generations, from legends Kathleen Turner, Wallace Shawn and Francis Fisher all the way to Kevin Zegers and Jacob Tierney, set in Montreal with the story of a truly dysfunctional family all coming back together for the marriage of one of their sons. Many complicated characters all bouncing off of each other, and both Turner and Shawn get a lot of mileage with their comedy here and feel like the ringleaders of a much bigger circus leading to a wedding that is a big comedy of manners...and errors. Pat Kiely (THREE NIGHT STAND) nicely balances the mayhem with a lot of positive wit and nicely balances all of the differeing characters, making for a fun (if slightly complicated) movie experience that is also stunningly set against the backdrop of Montreal, which has been done in a way I have never seen before.

STORY OF A GIRL - Actress and now director Kyra Sedgewick makes a solid debut with this important story on teenage issues and social media about 16 year old Deanna (Ryann Shane) who was caught on camera phone doing a sexual act with an older man when she was thirteen. Cut to three years later after endless school bullying and torment when the other person in the video surfaces in her life again after getting a job at a pizza joint (run by Kevin Bacon of all people!) and having all her emotions and family problems resurface when the man in question also works there. STORY OF A GIRL has its heart with a performance by Jon Tenney as Deanna's conflicted father who mostly refuses to speak to her throughout the movie. The two have the most dramatic resonance, which really made the movie stand out for me. While this was originally produced for TV, this would make for a good theatrical release AND to be shown in schools to teens down the road to incite conversations about bullying and peer pressure. A solid piece of work.

A SWINGERS WEEKEND - Strongly reminding me of WFF selection HOW TO PLAN AN ORGY IN A SMALL TOWN a few years ago, Jonathan Cohen's hilarious comedy DOES go off in a different direction than Jeremy Lalonde's sex romp (although both would make for a fun double feature). Three couples, all friends, get together for a weekend out of the city with a simple idea (or is it?); it's a swingers' weekend where all rules of relationship are off and all parties are free to sleep with each other. All the couples have different backgrounds and ethics on this subject, and the movie is a lot of fun dealing with it all; among the cast Erin Karpluk is great as a ringleader of sorts who is setting up all the ground rules, Mia Kirshner is delightful and plays against type as a character definitely shocked by this weekend and Jonas Chernick has a lot of fun with his nervousness around the other woman. I also loved how it does deal with the subject seriously at times and with complete honesty, as well as having many laugh out loud moments throughout.[br]

THERE IS A HOUSE HERE - Long time Canadian documentary filmmaker Alan Zweig, who I remember quite well from I, CURMUDGEON, returns here with his own take on culture in Nunavut. At first trying but unsucceeding to find subjects, some of which turn him down based on religious beliefs, he finds a subject in a family led by Lucie and her surrounding connections and Zweig follows these people for several months in telling conditions (in the film there is a surprising break from winter covered roads in the winter to bare, empty streets in the summer) as we also see family strife too; a sequence where it's explained how many people live in a single room without any sense of privacy is a very telling moment about this corner in the world. THERE IS A HOUSE HERE can be a very slow moving doc at times but it is a very effective story wishing for a change and a bit more awareness in this neck of the woods.

TRENCH 11 (TOP PICK) - Part war film and part genre badassery, TRENCH 11 is some kind of weird miracle of a Canadian indie that wants to tell the story of Berton (Rossif Sutherland, who was a hit here a few years ago with RIVER), a tunneller during the First World War who is asked to head into an underground city where an experiment is taking place. When Berton and his team arrive, a diseased looking man comes out warning them not to go inside. This being a movie, of course the team is going to go inside, and what results is a surprising zombie-survival genre movie that would play really well at midnight screenings. Gore and practical effects abound all matched by Sutherland, in pure leading man form here as a conflicted expert of his surroundings. It's a lot of gory fun but stay away if you have a touch of claustrophobia.

TULIPANI: LOVE, HONOUR & A BICYCLE - Not only the brightest and most colourful movie of this festival but probably any festival this year. This story is set in the Netherlands about a Canadian woman (the stunning Ksenia Solo) who, as we meet her, is sitting ass-up in a hospital stretcher being interviewed by Giancarlo Giannini of all people as she recounts an old love story from the 50s that led her from Canada to scatter her mom's ashes in the town. Turns out that her father fell in love with a redhead who couldn't speak and ran a tulip business that became quite popular in the region, to make things even more complicated. Both a comedy and love drama, the movie is full of colours and warmth and a great lead performance by Solo who is very easy on the eyes, as is the rest of the movie, I sure hope this movie plays on a rainy day.

VENUS - Like with BECOMING BURLESQUE here at the festival, VENUS is a telling story of family values in the East and how they can never keep up with an ever evolving West. In this case, Debargo Sanyal leads the story of Sid, a transgender woman living in Montreal dealing with a traditional family. Things get even more complicated when it is revealed that Sid has a 14 year old son suddenly in the picture. Director Eisha Marjara does not shy away at all from gender or identity politics but is welcoming on all sides of the issue as well. Sanyal is great in the title role, navigating a mine-field of family, the new son and relationships around herself throughout the running time and the film itself will definitely open a conversation about all stereotypes on the issue.

WORLD OF DARKNESS - We need more documentaries like this on gaming. WORLD OF DARKNESS shines light on the phenomenon around the role playing game of the title as well as the culture behind it. Giles Alderson's doc covers all the bases, from the conventions to cosplayers, as many pro interviews also surface about not only the game itself has evolved from a business perspective (the interviews about all the aspects of getting the game made and sold are the best parts of the documentary from this perspective) but how the game has moved digitally as well in the past few years. It is especially great to see that the core aspects of the game hasn't changed much over the years, just how it is consumed by fans. While I am not sure if this doc will be as accessible to non fans or gamers, those that are in this world or around it will really enjoy it overall.

A WORTHY COMPANION - One of my favorite Canadian movies of the Toronto International Film Festival this year, Whistler audiences are in for something unforgettable with one of Evan Rachel Wood's best performances of her career as Laura, a sexually promiscuous woman who also works for her dad unbeknownst of her past. Laura takes a sixteen year old girl (Julia Sarah Stone, also excellent) under her wing and the two develop an attraction as they are put under house arrest. A lot more is bubbling underneath the surface of brothers Carlos & Jason Sanchez' stunning debut feature that asks a lot of heavy questions, offers no easy solutions and resonates long after the end credits roll.[br]

And it is just that easy! It takes a village, indeed. Many thanks to Jive PR and the Whistler Film Festival team for assistance in this preview of the 2017 edition of the Whistler Film Festival. For more information on where the films are screening and at what venues, point your browser to www.whistlerfilmfestival.com for more information.

Watch this week on efilmcritic.com for some feature filmmaker interviews on our Live Report series. As well follow me on Twitter, Instagram Stories and Facebook for live coverage updates throughout the festival!


Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=4109
originally posted: 11/29/17 04:20:47
last updated: 12/09/17 14:42:06
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